Month: October 2016

Thank You, Sylvia Plath

The poems, quotes, letters, photos of a beautiful blonde woman with a wide smile were all over my news feed yesterday. A mother, a wife, a talented poet – ‘she had it all’ as they like to say in the west, but somehow it wasn’t enough.  And now on October, 27th we celebrate the unfortunately too short but important life of a woman who was equally impressive as an author and as an individual – Sylvia Plath.

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Sylvia Plath on the beach, summer 1953 (photo from the Gordon Ames Lameyer Papers)

Ever since opening the Bell Jar for the first time, I remember how I couldn’t believe it’s real. I read it while staying at my grandma’s house during the endless, annoying summer 12 or 13 years ago. I didn’t know what to do with myself until I found some books randomly stacked up in the ugly living room cupboard. Some of them were cookbooks, foreign fairy tale editions, cheap crime novels, and two other books who, at the time sounded a bit familiar but I had no idea they will leave such an impression on me. Both controversial in their own way, one on the each end of a spectrum – Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

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Up to this day I have no idea who brought the particular book to that house and how it ended up in that cupboard. Back at home we always had big piles of books everywhere, I didn’t have to go to the library for a long time because we had all the important titles on our shelves. But The Bell Jar never belonged in that collection, it’s not well-known in my country, it’s not even mentioned in school literature classes. Today I am finally aware why that is the case and why her work was marginalized. The thing is, it took me a while to realize that women and men can’t suffer the same way when it comes to public perception of mental problems, or just problems in general. Men’s demons and self – destructive behaviour augment their artistic substance while women should suffer in silence and hide, or even worse, they are expected to at least pretend to be happy most of the time.

Unfortunately, the part that made Plath (in)famous was her depression and the way she ended her life a short while after her only novel was published. I’m ashamed to admit that was what made me like her even more after I learned those information from the author’s biography at the back of the book. That is, I suppose, a normal  reaction for an overly sensitive teen who is looking for idols in all forms, contemplating life and, naturally, idealizing ‘tortured artist’ syndrome. On the surface it seemed like Sylvia fits right into that imaginary mold I’ve created. As soon as I started reading I could sometimes imagine myself in her shoes, I was still too young to  understand the struggles around college life, almost being  an adult, sexual relationships, finding a purpose, etc., but the general tone tinctured with insecurity felt surprisingly close. Many years later I still remember some of the lines from the novel and think how they seem relevant to me.

In her semi autobiographical novel, Plath speaks through the main character  Esther Greenwood and refers to her time at college where she showed great talent and gained success. Just like in real life, after some disappointment, she started to have mental issues that grew bigger and made her feel like an outcast in comparison to people her age, although she tried to understand their interests, goals and behavior. Nothing is left for her but frustration and confusion. As a reader I felt the most frustrated at the parts when Esther is given shock treatments to help her deal with depression and insomnia.

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The novel also deals with  a topic that is, although common, pretty much under the radar – a  typical problem for  exceptionally good students is the question about the future. Of course, everyone has anxieties about what happens next, but what are those students supposed to do after they leave school? Leaving an environment where they were considered smart and capable to start from the beginning where they are considered to be nobodies. They may continue to educate themselves in some form or another, but are expected to get a job, start a family, long story short – they get thrown into the adult world and simply have to fulfill their role in society. There’s no time for complaining. Esther can’t imagine herself enjoying the, at the time, typical female role of a wife and a mother who doesn’t pursue a career, and that is making her feel lost and trapped.

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Sylvia Plath tried to commit suicide many times, the first time it was documented in 1953 after taking sleeping pills but was found alive in her mother’s cellar after three days. The final attempt which turned out tu be successful  happened after a depressive episode in 1963 when she was found with her head in the oven with the gas turned on. She was only 30 years old.

Who knows what she could’ve wrote next? Not long before her death she had just finished The Bell Jar and had a creative period that left us with  numerous poems and short stories  who represent a testament to her genius, tumultuous mind. Breaking the taboos, being candid about personal struggles  and the recognition of female rights are finally getting the necessary attention which is making Plath’s work contemporary and more and more important and influential. Little girls wanting to be poets or writers have someone to look up to. Thank you for being an inspiration to us while we’re getting involved with art or going through our personal struggles.

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Jeff Buckley’s Final Recorded Performance Of “Hallelujah” (Live In Chicago 1995) — LOWLIFE MAGAZINE

I can’stop crying. :’)

The following video, which was recorded in May 1995 at Chicago’s Metro venue, is Jeff Buckley’s last-known recorded performance of his version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, a song that was made much more famous by Buckley on his 1994 album Grace, his only complete studio album. Jeff Buckley would later die in May 1997 of an accidental drowning, […]

via Jeff Buckley’s Final Recorded Performance Of “Hallelujah” (Live In Chicago 1995) — LOWLIFE MAGAZINE

Crazy for Godard

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There are movies you can watch with one eye closed, while texting your crush or thinking about your grocery list. There are movies you can watch with a bunch of friends and comment, laugh, talk about something else for a while, get up to get some more popcorn. There are movies who don’t demand your full attention, they are here to present a certain plot and try to entertain you while on the greater scale their sole purpose is to earn as much money as possible and then fall into the oblivion. Everyone who had at least a brief encounter with Jean-Luc Godard‘s movies is aware, of course, that this is not the case.

The average mind raised on the typical American style cinematography will get confused after five minutes, get bored after twenty and is most likely to give up from watching the movie after 45 minutes. But that’s no surprise and doesn’t mean that the average mind is stupid or uneducated. Godard’s work is an acquired taste, the one that when/if the viewer accepts it and gets to know it, falls in love more and more until you start looking at the everyday life scenes through Jean-Luc’s glasses.

That started happening to me after I watched Une femme est Une Femme (A woman is a Woman, 1961), my first Godard experience. I was a bit puzzled at first but it was love at first sight – the story, Anna Karina, Belmondo, the clothes, dialogue, colors, language… Freedom! Freedom is the key, freedom from the overpayed, overplayed, predictable script, nonchalant deconstruction of what is considered ‘normal’ or ‘succesful’. Godard himself says it all in one simple sentence:

“Improvising on the set is different from faithfully following the script.”

C’est vrai.

The last one I’ve (re) watched is also one of the most important French new wave titles – Pierrot le Fou (Pierrot Goes Wild, 1965).  It’s one of those movies that stuck with me and will always be important, also this time I had a chance to watch it in the cinema, on the big screen. What an experience, not even drunk people talking pretty loudly or leaving in the middle of the film couldn’t spoil the good feels and my overall excitement. If an extraterrestrial finally visits our beautiful planet one day, I suggest playing Pierrot for him/her/? to explain what ART means. You can’t define it in one word, it can be completely subjective, but once you come across it, you know it’s here.

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What I like the most about this film is the criticism towards Americanization, war and consumerism. We are so obsessed with things and accumulating stuff we don’t really need. We all know that, we’ve seen Fight Club for god’s sake, but still we remain clueless. I’m looking for winter coats online as we speak and I get that adrenaline rush because I’m in a hurry to pick the PERFECT one, the one that DEFINES me and at the same time I hate myself for it, but also can’t help it. Ridiculous, it’s like being stuck in between two worlds. That’s why artist that present sober critics to their public need to be even more appreciated. They are not just artists who create something for themselves and a small circle of people, they represent the state of society in general. Through the words, music, images and beautiful or funny scenes they can comfort us, but also implement a warning sign in our mind that something needs to be changed.

Like all great works of art, Pierrot le Fou is still very much relevant, I always laugh at the statement:

“Now we are entering the age of the ass.”

We are very much in that age and it seems like we will be in it for a while longer, don’t we? It’s hard to come out and look up, I guess.

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To conclude, i really think everyone should find some free time and dedicate it to watching good, classic movies, and not just so they can boast about it and act all ‘intellectual’ in front of others, it should be completely opposite, actually. Watching Godard helps me create my own little world, draw inspiration from it and learn. Finding out that  improvisation can coexist with author’s  control over  his work and what he’s trying to achieve is something I didn’t know before Godard, and now I very much appreciate. It is the unique pleasure of letting the viewer feel whatever he wants to, find his own way through the two hour movie watching experience without pulling his hand like he’s a kid about to get lost in the shopping mall. Let him get lost on purpose to find something new and exciting, that is the goal.

There are many little joys we all need to give our life true meaning, the memory of coming out of the cinema, snapping my fingers while singing quietly Ma ligne de chance is and always will be among my favourite instant mood boosters. And the best part is, I have yet to discover the rest of the ‘nouvelle vague’ familly – Truffaut, Chabroul, Rivette….

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FIN.

Reservoir Dogs & the Aestheticization of Violence

What I’m about to post is an English translation of a part of the favourite essay I have written by now. I chose this topic as an assignment for a class called Media and Violence. The essay is all about my favourite American director Quentin Tarantino, also, this particular piece of it focuses mostly on the analysis of screen violence and it’s influence on the viewer in Tarantino’s first-born, the legendary Reservoir Dogs. The main question inflicts itself: was all that blood really necessary?

The formal expression most commonly attributed to the work of director Quentin Tarantino is the aestheticization of violence. The inevitable violence is also the central  topic for the biggest critics and those who disapprove his work. The term aestheticization of violence includes all kinds of violent behaviour or images that suggest violence in high culture and mass media; violence which is presented in movies, fashion, TV shows and the rest of the media world.

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Tarantino as Mr. Brown in Reservoir Dogs

When it comes to art, the aestheticization of violence and death is very much present since the early age, especially in the western culture. Why has violence always been such an important part of art, cultural critic Susan Sontag explains as the universal human desire for images of pain and violence, it is the same as our universal desire for looking at the naked bodies. Sontag also thinks that people feel a certain amount of satisfaction while watching that kind of content because they feel they can take it without wanting to look away. In case they do look away, they feel satisfied, but in a different way. Kind of like a win-win situation.

Of course, an abundance of violent scenes is not something typical for Tarantino’s movies only, there is a great number of directors who use it, I will mention the most memorable ones like David Lynch, Guy Richie and Ridley Scott. Hollywood cinematography is present in the entire world, produces the most violent movies, but also attributes most to the aestheticization and presentation of violence as a form of artistic expression.

The critics have different opinions about the aesthetics of violence, there are two main theories most of the talk about: the habituation theory and the catharsis theory. The habituation theory suggest that the more we consume violent content in movies or TV shows, we decrease our sensibility to violence, violent behaviour becomes normal and usual to us. It is often presumed that movie violence is superficial and senseless, it is used only to get the attention, and eventually has a negative influence on the audience who’s members can become violent themselves.

The opposed side considers violence to be a part of the content, important asset to the movie’s plot, it has a chatartic effect on the viewer who’s tendency for violent behaviour decreases. Australian movie critic Adrian Martin defends and explains  the use of violence in the movies:  „ … violence on-screen is not real and mustn’t be confused with real life violence. Movie violence is fun, spectacular, acted, it is a dramatic metaphor. (…) It has gone through its historical changes,  has its codes, precise aesthetic benefits.”

Now it’s time to apply the theory through the examples, and my first pick was my favourite Tarantino movie which was also his first, break through project from 1992 – Reservoir Dogs.

This influential piece of independent movie history tells a seemingly simple story: it begins with eight men who don’t know each other (they don’t even reveal their names or anything about their identity) who have planned a diamond robbery, but the whole deal doesn’t really go as smoothly as they’ve expected. Nonlinear narrative combined with many gore, bloody scenes leads the viewer through the story and gets him to know the characters.

Those violent scenes and extent use of profanities were the reason for a big discussion right after the movie premiered. While some were impressed with the scenery and amazing acting performances, some scenes were too much to handle for a part of the audience.  The scene that cause the biggest ‘fuss’ is the one with Mr. Blonde (played by Michael Madsen) dancing and having loads of fun while brutally torturing a policeman by cutting his ear off. On many occasions the viewers would leave the cinema because of this particular scene. On the other hand, it has become one of the iconic scenes of the modern cinema, along with the song Stuck in the Middle with You performed by the Stealers Wheel.

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The infamous ‘ear scene’ with Michael Madsen

Tarantino’s answer to the numerous question about how Reservoir Dogs could inspire the increase of violence among its viewers went a little like this: Well, you can’t arrest me for something some pussy could do after he watches the movie. The moment when artists are blamed for stuff like that, that doesn’t have anything to do with art anymore.

Along with that, there are also negative comments concerning political (in)correctness – the movie is filled with aggressive racist dialogs, demeaning conversations towards women, and there’s also an important fact – there is not a single female role in the movie. To explain the racist part, all the criminals are white males, in this case they are the ones who have adopted the cool gangster image.

Verbal violence and overuse of profanities has become a common trade of Tarantino’s movies, in Reservoir Dogs he implemented swear words wherever it was possible (fuck is pronounced 269 times), we could assume it was his way of attracting attention and desire to bring something new to the crime movie genre. At the time those movies were getting less and less popular, Tarantino is the one that renovated the genre and brought it back to life. The critics love to say that Tarantino glorifies violence, tries to make it seem appealing, but closer look at those stylized scenes and pop culture references bring us to a different conclusion. Violent scenes are exaggerated, choreographed, attention consuming, but they are very far from reality.

Stylization that is created on exaggeration and repetition keeps  the viewer  in the safe distance, the difference between the real  and imaginary world is very clear. We have our world on one side, and Tarantino’s creations on the other. If you appreciate his creation, enjoy it, if not, don’t watch it and just let him be.